Photo courtesy of the Pat Murray Collection

Family Vacations in Illinois Overview

From teeming cities to sleepy beachfront towns, Illinois knows how to show a vacationing family a good time. Whether you're after some metropolitan shopping, award-winning cuisine, or simply a "night on the town," Illinois' busting burghs have the goods. And who says fun can't be educational? With a plethora of art museums, sculpture exhibits, zoos, and aquariums, Illinois has the ability to educate as well as delight adults and children of all ages.

Below are just a few of the attractions that make Illinois a can't-miss family vacation destination.

The Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium first opened in 1930 and now boasts a collection of more than 8,000 varieties of marine life, as well as an Oceanarium where trained animals perform dazzling shows for audiences young and old.

The Chicago International Children's Film Festival

The Chicago International Children's Film Festival, held every year in October, gives children a chance to experience kid-friendly films from across the globe, as well as participate in panel discussions on film, workshops on film making, and even judging the festival's entries.

ZooLights

ZooLights, held at the Lincoln Park Zoo, is a holiday-time display of lights and events for the whole family. With attractions ranging from live ice-sculpting demonstrations to family crafts activities in the Lion House, the zoo should have a place on anyone's holiday vacation itinerary.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, which houses some of the world's most famous paintings, also contains plenty of hands-on activities for kids and stunning displays of all types of artwork.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park, stretching across Chicago's lakefront district, is home to some amazing pieces of outdoor art as well as plenty of clean grassy lawns for picnicking. An ice rink in the winter rounds out this park's attractiveness as a family vacation stop.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, offers shopping, rides, history and live entertainment all in one convenient package. From the multitude of storefronts to the outdoor concert venues, Navy Pier is not to be missed when the weather's warm.

The Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the most amazing museums of its kind, and great for kids and parents alike. With a staggering amount of exhibits ranging from a World War II U-Boat to King Arthur's dining table, this vacation spot is a must-see for anyone traveling to Illinois.

Magnificent Mile

Chicago's Magnificent Mile stretches along North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. Stunning architecture and world-class shopping are just a few highlights that attract millions of visitors each year.

Chicago Blues

A great way to sample the Windy City grooves is the Chicago Blues Festival, which features a half-dozen stages and scores of blues acts. The festival takes over Grant Park for four days each June.

Wrigley Field

The "Friendly Confines" of Wrigley are known for eccentricities. Fickle winds can change the outcome of the game: Watch for home runs when the breeze blows toward Lake Michigan.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum devotes 200,000 square feet to telling Lincoln's tale. The 46,000-square-foot space devoted to permanent exhibits is twice the size of the next largest presidential library.

Continue to the next page to learn about the amazing underwater exhibits available at the Shedd Aquarium.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Chicago.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Audiences thrill to a performance by trained dolphins at Shedd's Oceanarium.

Family Vacations: Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 as the first inland aquarium to have a permanent saltwater exhibit. Water was shipped by railcar from Florida. Today the Shedd Aquarium boasts a collection of 8,000 aquatic animals and an Oceanarium.

The aquarium offers a number of programs, including Freshwater Fun, which teaches children about pond life; Sailing the Seven Seas, where kids learn about animals living in the sand, sea, and snow; and Sharks: Fact or Fiction, which serves up information about these mysterious ocean dwellers, complete with a close-up view of the aquarium's shark residents.

The Shedd's exhibits bring you close to exotic underwater worlds. The 400,000-gallon Wild Reef habitat has one of North America's most diverse displays of sharks. Its floor-to-ceiling aquarium windows give guests a diver's-eye view of a Philippine coral reef teeming with more than 500 species of reef fishes of all shapes, colors, and sizes.

The Caribbean Coral Reef tank is filled with just about every species you'd expect to find in tropical waters. A variety of rainbow-colored fish share the space with several sharks and sea turtles. Divers hand-feed the animals at scheduled times during the day. At Amazon Rising, anacondas, piranhas, and spiders the size of dinner platters bring the diverse Amazon basin to life.

The expansive Oceanarium exhibit re-creates a Pacific Northwest marine environment, with dolphins, harbor seals, sea otters, penguins, and beluga whales visible through underwater viewing windows. During scheduled shows each day in the Oceanarium, visitors will be entertained by the exciting acrobatics of the Shedd's dolphins.

Shedd Aquarium

Address: 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr

Chicago, IL

Phone: 312/939-2438

Hours of Operation:
  • Sept - May: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., daily and weekends 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
  • May - Sept: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., daily

Admission: $8 adults; $6 kids

Continue to the next page for information about the exciting movies and seminars available at the Chicago Children's Film Festival. To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Photo Courtesy of Facets Multimedia A member of the children's jury awards a top prize at a recent festival. Children are able to get involved in every step of the film-making process.

Family Vacations: Chicago International Children's Film Festival

North America's largest and longest-running festival of films for children, the Chicago International Children's Film Festival brings together some of the best animated and live action films from 40 different countries. The festival traditionally begins in October and spans an 11-day period. There is something to appeal to children of all ages, with special programs directed at four different age groups ranging between 2 and 13.

The films and videos -- dramas, documentaries, comedies, social commentaries, artistic vignettes, and animated shorts -- compete for recognition and prizes, and children who attend the festival vote for their favorites. One of the categories is Child-Produced Work, which features the works of aspiring filmmakers under the age of 18.

In past festivals, films such as The Raspberry Worm from Finland, The Little Monsterette from Switzerland, Domo-Kun and the Egg from Japan, and Runaway Bathtub from the United States have been presented. The films shown at the festival are carefully selected to present humanistic, nonexploitative, culturally diverse, and nonviolent work. The festival also sponsors a number of workshops for kids interested in making movies.

Chicago International Children's Film Festival

Address: Various locations, Chicago, IL

Phone: 773/281-9075

Hours of Operation: Third week in Oct.

Continue to the next page to learn about Zoolights, the winter wonderland created every year at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of the Pat Murray Collection Fabulous lights decorate the grounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo during ZooLights. Just walking the brightly-lit grounds is an amazing experience.

Family Vacations: ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

During the holiday season, it's hard for a meerkat to get a good night's sleep when millions of tiny lights brighten the grounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo and add a festive glow. You'll see the animals with thick winter coats lolling about in the cool night air, while their less-insulated brethren remain indoors in heated enclosures.

You can take in the sights on foot or jump aboard the Holiday Express train to view the more than 100 light displays and giant illuminated animal figures located throughout the zoo. Other highlights include ice-carving demonstrations and family crafts and activities in the Kovler Lion House. Children can pay a visit to Santa in his workshop, listen to stories and music, and ride the zoo's carousel. Carolers offer entertainment during the evening, and when little zoo-goers get hungry, there are plenty of hot treats.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Address: 2200 N. Cannon Dr

Chicago, IL

Phone: 312/742-2000

Hours of Operation: Dec. - Jan. 1, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Admission: Free

Continue to the next page for information about the astounding exhibits on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

This bronze lion guards the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Family Vacations: The Art Institute of Chicago

Some of the world's most famous paintings are housed in The Art Institute of Chicago. The collection includes the works of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, as well as other notable works such as Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.

Children can traipse through the many galleries of paintings, prints, sculptures, and photographs. The collection of arms and armor, which contains shiny suits of armor, wicked swords and daggers, and ancient firearms, is a particular favorite among children.

The 68 dollhouse-size rooms in the Thorne Miniature Room exhibit are filled with exquisite tiny furniture, household objects, and works of art. Painstakingly constructed and handcrafted, many of the rooms are duplicates of those found in European palaces and homes throughout the United States.

Family programs are highly emphasized at the museum. Many activities are located at the Kraft Education Center, which offers exhibits, games, puzzles, interactive computer games, and a children's library. Families can explore world cultures in an exhibition called Faces, Places, & Inner Spaces. The Art Institute offers a variety of workshops, and an artist's studio is open most weekends so kids can create their own masterpieces.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Address: 111 S. Michigan Ave

Chicago, IL

Phone: 312/443-3600

Hours of Operation:
  • Mon - Fri: 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Thurs: Open until 8 p.m.
  • Sat - Sun: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Admission: $12 adults; $7 kids

Continue to the next page for information about the picturesque grounds and impressive art on display at Chicago's Millennium Park.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Photo Courtesy of the Pat Murray Collection The highly polished Cloud Gate is know affectionately to locals as "The Bean."

Family Vacations: Millennium Park

What was once an eyesore of decaying railroad tracks and parking lots along Chicago's lakefront is now a stunning 24.5-acre urban jewel called Millennium Park. Among its major attractions are two extraordinary pieces of public art that have captivated visitors. One is a highly reflective 110-ton polished steel sculpture officially named Cloud Gate but affectionately called "The Bean." Visitors can wander under and around it to see the park and cityscape reflected in its curves.

The other, the Crown Fountain, is a reflecting pool flanked by two 50-foot towers onto which close-up images of Chicagoans are projected. The lips on the faces purse, and water sprays from them, making the ever-changing faces look like giant gargoyles. On warm days, children splash in the shallow water between the two towers and delight in the spray from the fountains.

There are plenty of lawns for picnicking, walkways among hedges and gardens, a performing arts venue, and a bicycle rental center so visitors can tour the park on wheels. A large outdoor ice-skating rink is open throughout the winter months.

Millennium Park

Address: S. Michigan Ave and E. Monroe Dr

Chicago, IL

Phone: 312/742-1168

Hours of Operation: 6 a.m. - 11 p.m., daily

Admission: Free

Check out the next page for information on the boardwalk shopping and rides available to vacationers at Chicago's Navy Pier.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

The Navy Pier Ferris wheel dominates the skyline near the Lake Michigan shore.

Family Vacations: Navy Pier

Chicago's lakefront playground is a fabulous 50-acre complex of parks, promenades, shops, and restaurants. Much of it is quite literally a pier overhanging the blue waters of Lake Michigan. Navy Pier is a wonderful place to bike or roller blade, and rental shops offer both.

The pier is home to a wide array of family-oriented events and entertainment. Its most visible attraction is a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel that was modeled after the one built for Chicago's 1893 World Columbian Exposition. It is a great way to get a bird's-eye view of the area. Other attractions include a musical carousel, old-fashioned Viennese swings, miniature golf, a maze, an IMAX theater, and an excellent children's museum.

Two stages offer free music and theatrical performances during the summer, and many shows are geared especially to families. Tour boats depart the pier regularly -- you can choose between speedboat rides that will have you zipping across Lake Michigan at 40 miles per hour or restful cruises whose guides provide background about Chicago's architecture. On select nights during the summer, Navy Pier stages a fireworks display that lights up the city's skyline. Special cruises that depart from the pier offer a perfect vantage point.

Navy Pier

Address: 600 E. Grand Ave

Chicago, IL

Phone: 312/595-PIER, 800/595-PIER

Continue to the next page to learn more about the amazing attractions on display at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

The stately grounds of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In the summer, events like a kite-flying weekend are held on the sprawling lawn.

Family Vacations: Museum of Science and Industry

This innovative Chicago museum is one of the best in the country and features a myriad of thoroughly engaging exhibits for family members of every age. You can climb through a cramped World War II German U-boat to get a feel for life undersea, descend into a coal mine like a real miner, and operate a series of 12 toy-assembling robots that can produce 300 gravitron toys per hour.

Peek into the world of miniatures at The Great Train Story, which features 34 model trains racing along an elaborate cross-country set that starts at a Seattle harbor and ends in Chicago. The astonishing Fairy Castle, designed by Colleen Moore, is a wonderland of miniature treasures from around the world. In the dining room, King Arthur's table is set with real gold plates, and the stitches in the Viennese tapestries lining the wall are so small that you can barely see them, even under a magnifying glass. In Cinderella's drawing room, the chandelier is hung with real diamonds, emeralds, and pearls.

The Chick Hatchery is a favorite among children. It's a daily event where visitors witness the chicks carefully pecking their way out of their shells. Networld takes visitors on a multimedia tour into the technology that keeps our modern world connected every day.

Museum of Science and Industry

Address: 57th St. and Lake Shore Dr

Chicago, IL

Phone: 773/684-1414

Hours of Operation: 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., Mon. - Sat. and 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sun.

Admission: $11 adults; $7 kids

Continue to the next page for details on family vacations along Chicago's glamorous Magnificent Mile.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit the Windy City.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

A band of white lights around the 100th floor of the John Hancock Center is visible all over Chicago at night.

Family Vacations in Illinois: Magnificent Mile

Chicago's Magnificent Mile stretches along North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. The 100-story John Hancock Center may be the most prominent building on this stretch, but don't overlook the other architectural gems. The Tribune Tower, with its decorative buttresses and gothic design, was once called "the most beautiful and eye-catching building in the world."

Park Tower, a 67-story skyscraper, preserves the facade of the landmark 1917 Perkins, Fellows, and Hamilton Studio. And there's the distinctive Old Water Tower. Built in 1869, the tower has become a symbol of Chicago -- it was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

Today it stands near Water Tower Place, a gargantuan high-rise shopping mall with more than 100 specialty shops. Which brings us to the truly magnificent part of the Magnificent Mile: Bloomingdale's, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Lalique, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, and Hammacher Schlemmer. Chicago's Magnificent Mile -- bring your credit card.

Magnificent Mile Information

Address: N. Michigan Ave and E. Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL

Telephone: 312/642-3570

Check out the next page for details about the famous Chicago Blues Festival.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Chicago.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

©City of Chicago. Crowds are captivated by the soulful melodies and beats at the Chicago Blues Festival.

Family Vacations in Illinois: Chicago Blues

During the 20th century's "Great Migration" of blacks from the American South, many Mississippi Delta blues musicians moved north to the frigid Windy City and found themselves playing in smoky, noisy nightclubs. In the 1930s, blues musicians added electric guitars, electric bass, and drums, and their sound cut through any nightclub's din. By the 1940s, Chi-town blues icons such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had created what is now called the Chicago Blues.

One way to sample the Windy City grooves is the Chicago Blues Festival, which features a half-dozen stages and scores of blues acts. The festival takes over Grant Park for four days each June. Or you might prefer to sample the music at the dozens of clubs south of downtown and on the city's south side. Well-known clubs such as Buddy Guy's Legends, Lee's Unleaded Blues, Kingston Mines, Frankie's, House of Blues, Checkerboard Lounge, and Rosa's Lounge can be touristy but fun. Don't miss the smaller clubs dotting the Windy City, too -- they yield rich musical rewards.

Chicago Blues Information

Address: Grant Park

S. Michigan Ave and E. Congress Pkwy

Chicago, IL

Telephone: 312/744-0626

Hours of Operation: First week in June, 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Continue to the next page to find out details about historic Wrigley Field -- home of the Chicago Cubs.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Chicago.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Fans flock to Wrigley to cheer on the Cubs -- some even crowd the rooftops of buildings on Sheffield Avenue beyond right field.

Family Vacations in Illinois: Wrigley Field

Chicago Cubs fans are among the most devoted fans of any sports team. Nowadays, most people worship winners. But the Cubs, a baseball team that has not won a World Series championship since 1908, are the most lovable losers of America's pastime. Both the Cubs and their fans prize their quaint home ballpark, Wrigley Field. Wrigley was built in 1914 for $250,000 and featured baseball's first permanent concession stand. It's the second oldest major league park, next to Fenway Park in Boston. And in 1988, it became the last MLB field to host night games when lights were finally added to the park.

The "Friendly Confines" of Wrigley are known for eccentricities. Fickle winds can change the outcome of the game: Watch for home runs when the breeze blows toward Lake Michigan. And hard-hit balls have been getting stuck in the ivy-covered outfield walls since they were erected in 1937.

Wrigley's capacity is relatively small -- a mere 39,538 (with the new seats added in 2006), plus the apartment rooftops across Sheffield and Waveland Avenues. However, any seat will yield a great view of the playing field (the park is well-known for this attribute). Most games are sellouts, but it's worth it to grab a ticket, hot dog, and beer and sit among the famous Bleacher Bums. Afterward, join the untiring Cubs fans at neighborhood bars and restaurants just steps from Wrigley.

Wrigley Field Information

Address: 1060 W. Addison St

Chicago, IL

Telephone: 773/404-CUBS, 800/THE-CUBS

Hours of Operation: tours available Apr. - Sept., 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Illinois isn't called the "Land of Lincoln" for nothing. Continue to the next page to learn why visitors should make a stop at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Chicago City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Chicago.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Since its opening in 2004, the Lincoln Library has become one of the most popular presidential libraries in history.

Family Vacations in Illinois: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Abraham Lincoln's wisdom, compassion, and leadership were unmatched in his time. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, combines scholarship and showmanship to sweep visitors along from Lincoln's humble beginnings in a log cabin to his presidency during the Civil War. The library opened in 2004, the presidential museum in 2005.

Only six months after it opened, the museum welcomed its 400,000th visitor -- a record for presidential libraries. People stream to the Lincoln Library to see books, papers, and artifacts from the life of the Great Emancipator and from the Civil War. Replicas of Lincoln's boyhood home, the Lincoln White House, and his box at Ford's Theatre give an aura of realism to the exhibits.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum devotes 200,000 square feet to telling Lincoln's tale. The 46,000-square-foot space devoted to permanent exhibits is twice the size of the next largest presidential library.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Information

Address: 212 N. Sixth St

Springfield, IL

Telephone: 217/782-5764, 800/610-2094

Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., daily

Admission: $7.50 adults; $3.50 kids

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Illinois State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Illinois, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.